The Matrix: MEME 2.14

MEME 2.14

"We need a Martha Stewart of Cyberspace. People wonder why all this feels so intellectual and rational, and machinic. It is because designers have not gotten in there yet to invest this world with their humanity. My finger is pointing at them. It is your turn. The technologists are done. We have given you a foundation, and now it is up to you to build on that foundation. "

-- Mark Pesce, in MEME 2.14

Mark Pesce is known for his work creating VRML, or Virtual Reality Markup Language. In this issue of MEME, I spoke with Mark about his life, and what motivated him to co-create VRML. With the release of VRML 2.0, in August of 1996, VRML (pronounced "vurmel") is fast becoming the defacto standard for authoring dynamic, inteconnected 3-D worlds over the Internet. In this interview, Pesce discusses the origins of VRML and his hope that a "tactile," "sensual" version of cyberspace will bring a spiritual dimension to computing.

DB: VRML is a growing influence on the Internet, but before we talk about it, I was hoping you would retell how you first came to use computers, and what you found appealing about them.

MP: Back when computers were quite large I started using them. The first time I used a computer was when I was ten years old or so -- quite a long time ago in terms of computing. Someone's father managed a computer center and we would go in on the weekends and play Stark Trek games, and puzzles and things like that on the computers. That's when I discovered that I really liked them.

DB: What kind of computer was it? Was it a mainframe?

MP: It was a big Digital Equipment computer. A PDP of some sort.

DB: Where was this?

MP: It was in Rhode Island, where I grew up. I remember after that being intensely drawn to computers. I never questioned it when I was young. I just wanted to play with them. I felt they were the ultimate toy. As soon micro-computers came out, I got one. A TRS-80. A "trash eighty" as we called them.

DB: Were you in college by then?

MP: No, no. I was a sophomore or junior in high-school at that point. It was '78. My high-school was very foresighted and offered classes in programming. I took those. The junior college also did, and my parents and I were taking the same computer courses at the same time -- which was a lot of fun. I just really continued to enjoy it. Then I found myself at MIT.

DB: That's where you went to college?

MP: I haven't graduated. I was thrown out. If I had it all to do over again, I would definitely go to a liberal-arts school, rather than a school that is so focused on technology. It wasn't well rounded. On the other hand, the friends that I made there were very rounded people, and we all suffered from the same ennui that the institution is very capable of bringing on.

DN: What was that ennui?

MP: MIT is a dehumanizing place. It's not just the workload, it's the relationship of technos and ontos, of being and doing, in the sense that anything that gets in the way of doing is really disdained.

DB: So you were frustrated because MIT was so unartistic?

MP: I don't know that I can, in my 17 year-old f